Skip to comments.ISILís advance puts Saudi Arabia between Iraq and a hard place
Posted on 06/18/2014 10:25:40 AM PDT by Uncle Miltie
The battle between Iraqs government and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which threatens to plunge Iraq back into the chaos of sectarian civil war, puts Saudi Arabia in an increasingly awkward position.
The Saudis have long been at loggerheads with the Iran-backed Shia-dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, seeing Iraq as a key theater of its battle for influence with Tehran that also plays out in Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere in the region. But while ISIL poses the deadliest challenge yet to Maliki, its rapid emergence as a key regional player threatens Saudi interests as well as those of Iran. Still, the military effort to reverse ISILs rapid gains over the past week with possible U.S. and Iranian assistance is likely, at least in the short term, to strengthen the hand of Riyadhs adversaries in Iraq.
The Saudis took several days to respond to last weeks news that Irans Revolutionary Guard Corps was involved in the Iraqi fight against ISIL, and that some form of alliance of convenience between the U.S. and Iran was being mooted to stabilize security in Iraq.
When Riyadh did speak out on the crisis on Monday, it blamed events on Malikis failure to reconcile with Iraqs Sunnis, and it also issued a veiled threat to Iran.
A Saudi government statement said that the events of the past week could not have taken place if it was not for the sectarian and exclusionary policies implemented in Iraq over the past years that threatened its stability and sovereignty.
Riyadh said it rejected foreign interference in [Iraqs] internal affairs, and called for a state that would realize the participation of all components of the Iraqi people in determining the future.
Maliki has been widely accused of governing on a sectarian basis, using the demographic advantage of the Shia to prevail in elections but using the instruments of power to exclude and alienate the Sunni minority, many of whom had enjoyed comparative advantages under the regime of Saddam Hussein.
Ideally, what Riyadh would want is some sort of political accommodation where Sunni interests are better represented, said Toby C. Jones, a professor of Middle East studies at Rutgers University in New Jersey. He said Riyadh wants Iraq beholden to interests that the Saudis could support.
But the rapid gains of ISIL in the past week present Riyadh with a policy dilemma.
[The Saudis] blame Maliki for inviting this crisis by alienating Sunnis and for failing spectacularly when faced with the ISIL blitz. But their fear and distrust of ISIL is real. This is a group that would storm Riyadh and Mecca if it could, said Matthew M. Reed, vice president at Foreign Reports, a Middle Eastfocused consulting firm in Washington, D.C.
Like the United States, then, Saudi Arabia finds itself caught in a security conundrum with no clear endgame although with far closer proximity to the consequences of the ISIL surge.
The Saudis are caught, said F. Gregory Gause III, a professor of Middle East studies at the University of Vermont. They dont like Iran or Maliki but they dont like [ISIL] either. I think theyre risk-averse and divided about what they want to do.
Riyadh is hardly unique in demanding greater Sunni inclusion in the Shia-dominated Maliki political order. The same view has been constantly reiterated by President Barack Obama and other U.S. officials, and endorsed by many analysts who view Sunni alienation from the new political order in Iraq as increasingly undermining the security of the Iraqi state.
The question of Sunni Arab participation in Iraqs political order that has plagued the transition [from Saddam Hussein] since its inception is as acute and explosive as ever, warned the International Crisis Group in a report published in August 2013, months before ISILs meteoric rise on the Iraqi battlefield.
Some experts believe that the Saudis embrace of Sunni armed groups fighting the Iran-backed regime of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria has inadvertently fueled the crisis in Iraq ISIL operates on both sides of the Syria-Iraq border, and is beyond the orders or influence of any government. (Advocates of greater backing for Syrias rebels counter that insufficient support to rival groups there allowed ISIL to prosper.)
On Tuesday, the Iraqi government blasted the Saudis, accusing them of supporting ISIL.
"We hold [Saudi Arabia] responsible for supporting these groups financially and morally, and for the outcome of that which includes crimes that may qualify as genocide: the spilling of Iraqi blood, the destruction of Iraqi state institutions and historic and religious sites," a government statement read.
But thats a vast overstatement of Saudi influence, said Reed at Foreign Reports: Assads durability up to now only underscores how limited Saudi influence is, he said. Saudi influence in Iraq is modest also, contrary to what Maliki claims.
While the Saudi authorities officially reject ISIL, criminalizing its citizens who join such groups abroad and targeting domestic supporters, ISILs funding stream is believed by many to reach into the wealthy elites of the kingdom and of some of its Gulf neighors, and there appear to have been divisions in Riyadh over the extent of the risk to Saudi interests posed by backing radical groups fighting Assad.
Writing in an op-ed for The New York Times, Steven Simon, a former member of Obamas national security council, said states such as Saudi Arabia that tacitly support the rebels as payback against Iran for its perceived takeover of Iraq will do nothing to support the rebels military campaign, for fear of creating an uncontrollable situation, even if their nationals privately fund the rebel army.
The resulting carnage seems more likely to favor Iran, whose influence in Baghdad is much stronger, and on whom Maliki will be even more dependent in the face of ISILs challenge. That leaves Riyadh without many options.
One of the interesting things is how little involved they are. They have a hard time finding local clients that arent really problematic, Gause said regarding Riyadh's possible choices.
But Saudi concern over some of Washingtons recent moves to thaw relations with Tehran including continuing efforts to reach a final agreement over Irans nuclear program is likely to be confined to private displeasure, and tempered by the reality that Saudi Arabia still leans heavily on U.S. power in the region.
Theyre dependent on the U.S. for all sorts of reasons, said Rutgers Jones. If they flip the switch, and go back and pursue a more antagonistic line [with Iran], thats not going to go down well in the U.S.
This is a balance-of-power game, Jones continued. They want to win the chessboard. Given the options available in Iraqs current situation, that will be a long strategic game.
Meanwhile, although Gause said it was not a fantasy that a regional thaw between Riyadh and Tehran might emerge from the flames of Iraqs current violence, he thought the opposite scenario was more likely. I see everyone running to their corners, he said.
This video shows MANY terrorists with Saudi passports.
The poor dears. Having created international terrorism out of whole cloth (see Al Qaeda), they don't like it when they cannot control their Frankenstein.
Your enemy’s enemy is not ALWAYS your friend!
The real problem is that they are stuck on Islam. That is “God with rabies.”
Camels stopping by to drop a load.
...the danger of a major supply cutoff cannot be ruled out. Iraqs 3.3 million barrels per day exceeds what Saudi Arabia holds in spare capacity which stood at 1.96 million barrels per day in the first quarter.
It is unlikely that Iraq will lose all of its production, particularly since two-thirds of its capacity is located south of the current turmoil, but should a significant volume be cut off from global markets, Saudi Arabias ability to make up for it is questionable.
The ISIL would be subject to A10s attacking their columns.
Is this group known as ISIS, ISIL, or both?
ISIS is Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
ISIS is also Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham. Another poster told me that al-Sham is the ancient reference to Damascus.
Thank you for the good response.
Jordan has been a fairly decent nation in some respects. I have a hard time seeing it support a group intent on overthrowing the leadership in Iraq.
Syria I can buy into, because we know of the terrorist element there. Lebanon’s government is now suspect, at least I believe it is.
Most of this sound reasoned but the Jordanian quotient.
Don’t let a crisis go to waste....
We are about to see 7 dollars a gallon gas.
Wonder why Obama is not allowing Keystone to go through?
Oh I wish ISIS would attack Saudi Arabia and leave the Syrians and Iraqis alone.
Heavens, I hope not. $7.00 a gallon would royally screw folks who drive a distance to work. Vacations? Forget about it.
These guys are delusional. The Saudi’s are helping fund ISIS.
Your wish is coming, somewhat. Iran will move in. Faced with two unacceptable choices to their north, Saudi Arabia will either pay someone to come bail them out or finally use that army they have been building. The Kurds will try to hold onto their area, but the Turks and Iran cannot allow that. It is the perfect storm of hate.
ISIS doesn’t need funding; they robbed Iraqi banks and it is estimated they have 500 million+ at this point (some estimates have them pegged at 2 Billion). They don’t need the Saudi’s, except for their heads.
They needed funding before and the Saudis’s have been backing them. But hey don’t get me wrong I have no love for the House of Saud. They feed the alligator hoping it will eat them last.
Actually, you are speaking of exSaudis. They left the Kingdom.
Saudis have been backing them, yes. The Saudis who wish the overthrow of the House of Saud for being to Western.